In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Marvel respectfully moves forward sans Boseman
New York, New York - After the death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, there were doubts about whether the Marvel series should continue at all. Director Ryan Coogler has succeeded in both making a solid sequel and paying tribute to Boseman with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Marvel Studios chalked up one of its biggest hits in 2018 with Black Panther. The blockbuster about the African king and super-hero T'Challa and featuring a largely Black cast was not only a success at the box office but also won three Oscars and hailed as a milestone in Black popular culture.
But only two years later, the lead actor, Chadwick Boseman, died of cancer. Aside from the human loss, the filmmakers faced a challenge of continuing the series without its star.
"It was difficult," screenwriter and director Ryan Coogler told DPA in London, noting that there was "a lot of doubt about continuing."
The fact that Boseman kept making films despite his cancer, which he kept to himself until the end, made him something of a role model, he said. "We didn't know what he was going through at the time," Coogler recalled.
"He was an incredible leader and he led by example. He was able to navigate all he was going through and make great art. [...] His example of perseverance, and just strength and prioritizing the work, is what we leaned on."
Now, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is all about the deceased. Even the Marvel introductory shots which are usually a collage of numerous superheroes, features only Boseman's T'Challa.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever explores a new world
In the film, the story line is that he has died of an unspecified illness. His mother, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), are shown having a difficult time coping with their loss. During a farewell ritual in their fictional African country of Wakanda, the two receive an unexpected visitor.
Also known as K'uk'ulkan, the powerful Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is the ruler of an underwater kingdom called Talocan, a place which is completely unknown to the world and has the resource vibranium, a nearly indestructible metal.
Until now, Wakanda had been the only place possessing this resource. But specialized teams sent by other world powers have been despatched to search for vibranium on the ocean floor. Namor asks Queen Ramonda and Princess Shuri to team up with him to oppose the rest of the world. If not, he will destroy Wakanda.
General Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Princess Shuri embark on a trip to the United States to call on the highly-talented scientist Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who has developed the technology to locate vibranium deposits and who is now in grave danger. Soon after the first meeting with Riri, there is a clash with both the CIA and the powerful Talocan.
Marvel fans know Riri in the comic books as "Iron Heart," and in 2023, the streaming platform Disney+ will launch its own TV series featuring Thorne. Coogler made it clear that this was not the reason that she appears in his film.
"We thought that it made sense for there to be another character that represented that culture, that represented that point of view," the 36-year-old director said. "And we thought it would be interesting that that character would be another young scientist."
Wakanda Forever honors Chadwick Boseman
The 30th film by Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) needs a lot of time to break away and emancipate itself from its hero. Before Black Panther: Wakanda Forever finally gets going and offers the customary Marvel-like spectacle, the film first pays homage to Boseman with mourning scenes and farewell ceremonies. This tribute is appropriate. The end of the film is truly moving and touching.
But exhausting are the long-drawn-out scenes in Shuri's laboratory where she is developing new protective clothing and searching for the Black Panther formula, all the while that chart-topping songs are booming from the soundtrack album. In view of the film's length - a whopping 161 minutes - this all might better have been cut back a bit.
Owing to the tragic conditions in the wake of the first Black Panther film, Coogler had to conceive the film as being a sequel and also as an origin story.
And in fact, Wakanda Forever serves very well for being as a kind of transition film for future Black Panther episodes. And when the climax is reached after two hours, there are still a number of surprises waiting in the suspense-filled finale.
The comic book spectacle looks great, and the sound is superb thanks to another epic film score by the genius Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. With the Talocan now the modern-day Atlantis, the film opens up an exciting new world at MCU.
There is something repetitive about fight scenes in Marvel films and series, but now thanks to Talocan, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever offers something new because much of the action takes place in, on and with water. Especially the computer-generated whales are visually spectacular.
Ryan Coogler has made a virtue borne of necessity. After the loss of Boseman, the strong women of Wakanda from the first film emerge, with Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong'o as T'Challa's surviving lover Nakia brilliantly shining in their roles.
They ensure that the Black Panther saga has a promising future even after Boseman – without King T'Challa, but of course not without a Black Panther.
Cover photo: Collage: ©Disney / DIMITRIOS KAMBOURIS / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP